NEWS

Less Than 10 Stonepelters Surrounded The Army When Dar, A Mere Passerby, Was Used As Shield, Say Kashmiri Villagers

The villagers' account differs starkly from the army's.

25/05/2017 11:53 AM IST | Updated 25/05/2017 12:01 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Six weeks after Farooq Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri embroidery artisan, was tied to a jeep by Indian Army Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi as a human shield, several intriguing facts have emerged about the incident. Use of any human being as a shield is seen as a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions which India ratified, and is a practice abolished by most nations.

According to a report in The Telegraph, villagers of Otligam in Kashmir's Budgam district, where it all took place on 9 April, remember the day very differently from the army's version.

Inhabitants of the area are confounded by the army's claim that around 1,200 people had gathered around a polling booth for the by-elections that were on at the time. A former sarpanch, or village head, informed the reporter that the collective population of the place, including women, children and newborns, would probably come up to that number.

Although people from neighbouring villages often join protests against the Indian Army in Kashmir, there were only about 5 or 10 boys pelting stones in Budgam on that fateful day, eyewitnesses say. Since the area is surrounded by hills on three sides, the security forces called in reinforcements to avoid trouble.

The villagers say troops of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles unleashed havoc when they arrived on the spot. The soldiers opened fire, threw tear gas shells, broke glass panes of houses and assaulted the people. One youth was injured by a bullet, another by a shell.

The villagers say troops of the 53 Rashtriya Rifles unleashed havoc when they arrived on the spot. The soldiers opened fire, threw tear gas shells, broke glass panes of houses and assaulted the people. One youth was injured by a bullet, another by a shell.

In the midst of this mayhem, Dar happened to drive through the region on his way to see an ailing relative. The army allegedly pulled him off his bike, threw the vehicle down the slopes, beat him up and then tied him to a jeep as human shield. He was then paraded through the village by the army. People were warned over loudspeakers against throwing stones.

Gogoi, who said he found people rolling boulders on the army from their rooftops when he reached the village, gave a starkly contrasting version of the events. He claimed he acted in the best interest of the people by tying up Dar, which, he believes, helped minimise the bloodshed and violence.

In the midst of this mayhem, Dar happened to drive through the region on his way to see an ailing relative. The army allegedly pulled him off his bike, threw the vehicle down the slopes, beat him up and then tied him to a jeep as human shield.

It has been repeated several times by various social media users, including both retired and serving armed forces officers, and politicians, that Gogoi had "very little time" on his hands to control a rapidly-escalating situation, legitimising his act as an unusual, but perhaps necessary diversion from army procedure in a battle zone. However, if the villagers' testimonies are to be believed, this was not the case. Even after the situation was under control, Dar was allegedly paraded around several villages as warning to other stone pelters, which adds another element to Gogoi's act.

Recently awarded by the army, even as a probe is on regarding his use of the human shield, Gogoi has been lauded widely by a section of the media, politicians and military establishment. Dar, on the other hand, is still being tainted by some as a stone pelter, when he clearly wasn't one and had been out that day to cast his vote.

In a heartbreaking message in the media, Dar asked 'Was I an animal?" He has also lodged a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission in Srinagar, calling Gogoi's award "illegal".

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